MLB The Show 17 Review: Out Of The Ballpark

Sony /

This year, MLB The Show 17 expands upon its solid base and tackles the nitty gritty in extreme detail, making this a solid time to jump back in.

Developer: SIE San Diego Studio

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platform: PS4

Release Date: March 28, 2017

I’ve always had the hardest time recommending getting a sports title year in and year out. With the exception of minor feature updates, retooling of the game engine and updating the roster/online infrastructure, paying full price for the same fundamental game seems counterintuitive. That said, there are always exceptions to be made, and SIE San Diego Studio proves that with MLB The Show 17, a baseball title worth picking up even if you got last year’s edition.

The standout experiences this year aren’t as grandiose or groundbreaking as those that pushed the envelope, but the development team likes to see what works in other sports games and apply it beautifully in their baseball simulation series. This means that Road to the Show, the create-a-player adventure from the minor leagues to The Show, takes on a pseudo-documentary format, narrator and all.

MLB The Show 17 Road To The Show
Sony /

I found this approach quite refreshing in contrast to the overbearing story modes you see elsewhere, as it puts the player solely in an RPG-lite narrative that weighs actions within their own perspective.

In between games played on the Road to the Show, you may encounter some training exercises, or have a hitting coach ask you about your current play. How you respond may alter how people will perceive you down the road, which will be reflected in subtleties around your play. Think yourself up as a big shot, and you may end up being a bit more vocal on bad umpire strike calls. You may also alienate yourself from management; a critical misstep on the way to the major leagues.

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These moments add a fun footnote in MLB The Show 17 to what was already present in past versions. It’s great to see a faux behind-the-scenes look at a club asking a player to try out a new position, offer congratulations for getting called up a level or a GM scolding a player for not being thrilled about joining the Minnesota Twins, of all organizations.

It’s all part of the most important focus of MLB The Show 17: polishing existing gameplay. One year’s difference on the PS4 platform only (no PS3 or PS Vita version) gave the development team the opportunity to vastly improve the visual fidelity of this game. Furthermore, each gameplay mode beyond Home Run Derby (where rules have been changed to follow the current trend) has had fundamental improvement to cater to all baseball gaming fanbases.

MLB The Show 17 Comparisons Max Scherzer
Sony /

As you can see above, the changes made to the lighting engine make this year’s entry feel like a true jump in quality. Franchise Mode finally feels like a proper management simulator as much as it was a hands-free operations simulation. Quick Manage lets you play each pitching/hitting matchup like you were an Out of the Park Baseball coach while still maintaining the day-to-day business of a sports franchise. Live games with expanded roster updates let you truly play along with your favorite teams.

Most importantly, the overall production quality built into the fundamental baseball experience is at its peak. Never in a million years would I think to actively welcome the baseball insight of Harold Reynolds into my life, but as part of the MLB Network broadcast integration to mimic the real life audio, UI visuals, and commentary packages, it’s a breath of fresh air. Plus, with its own take on Statcast data tracking, MLB The Show 17 is dragging itself out of the stone age and into the advanced statistical world of the modern MLB.

Every aspect of improved gameplay aims to better mimic the play of baseball, including smarter AI for balls off the bat and dynamic year-round lighting. For the first time in a while, MLB The Show 17 seems to be peaking, with few areas that need marked improvement. The shift to PS4 has been excellent, and PS4 Pro support has been exactly what the doctor ordered with its sharp visuals.

MLB The Show 17 Retro Mode
Sony /

We even have new mini-gameplay modes to spice things up, including Retro Mode. I’m surprised Sony got away with this clear cut allusion to the SNES classic Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, down to base hit sound effects, classic control style, and silly, arcadey gameplay. It’s a strong throwback to 90s era sports titles and is quite an enjoyable nostalgic trip on its own.

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With Ken Griffey Jr. on the cover, it only makes sense to go well in on this and other dynamic gameplay modes. This includes Diamond Dynasty, which extends the reach of the card-based fantasy team management. Being able to reunite the Griffeys back on the diamond is a pristine feeling, one offered if you play your (literal) cards right and build up a team.

Here’s where I rationalize the current digital microtransaction landscape and offer a modicum of leeway: MLB The Show 17 offsets the general awfulness of the “digital items for real cash” experience by providing enough stubs, tickets, items, and cards through regular gameplay. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve already earned fairly rare cards in a short weekend window that I can vault a beginner team into the next tier of viability just by getting freebies through completed games.

MLB The Show 17 Diamond Dynasty
Sony /

Being tied to online servers still takes an awful big cut out of the fun away, however, as the insufferable lag involved in playing the Diamond Dynasty Conquest mode takes you right out of the deeply immersive gameplay. It’s not quite as fun to play a video game version of fantasy Risk baseball if every action you take results in seconds (not milliseconds) of lag on the virtual board. In my time with online play, it seems to be the main cause of concern, as the servers at launch were hammered with downtime. Once I got in, the usual input delay that comes with the usual netcode persisted.

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Small issues remain, including odd framerate dips in Road to the Show upon certain fielding opportunities. As with all sports games, there are odd glitches that occur that result in forced gameplay errors or bad pathing to the bases. These will get addressed, and eventually will get tightened up down the line, but still hamper what should be smooth sailing in most other game modes.

This series tends to shift in fairly major ways each year, yet MLB The Show 17 seems to avoid that and focuses on tightening up their one package on one platform. While I appreciate the doubling down this year, even if you picked up last year’s game if this trend continues I worry about possible stagnation. It’s nice to make this game as visually stunning as in real life, with AI that makes players and ball patterns play like a real life baseball game, but too quickly can SIE San Diego Studio get complacent in their untested position in the baseball gaming market.

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8. MLB The Show 17 takes smart, calculated approaches to improving its gameplay while expanding the Road to the Show Mode with its addition of an ongoing narrative. In an attempt to solidify an excellent baseball simulation experience, one with more control over minute details in all available gameplay modes, the development team builds upon a solid base. While this year’s edition is worth picking up no matter how long it’s been since your last copy, without expanding gameplay options, the series risks becoming the same old, year in and out.<p>This review will be scored once online play is properly factored.</p>. SIE San Diego Studio. . MLB The Show 17

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.